About the Exam
The ABPN psychiatry exam is a marathon day-long computerized multiple-choice exam offered once a year with two dates in September. You can apply as early as November but the deadline is February (current dates here) through the “folio” website. You won’t schedule the actual exam until scheduling is opened, usually around 2 months before the exam dates. Results take around 8-10 weeks. In 2016, scores were released on November 30 (so 10 weeks).
Eligibility (see the info document):
- Graduate from a legit medical school
- Have a full medical license
- Finish residency (or be a senior on track to finish it before taking the test)
- Complete 3 Clinical Skills Evaluations (CSE)
- $700 application fee when you register to tell them you’re ready
- $1685 examination fee when you schedule the exam with Pearson VUE.
You have 7 years after finishing your ACGME residency to pass the ABPN to become board certified. So you have plenty of tries if things go south (subsequent tries “only” cost the $1685 exam fee).
Exam & Content
You get 50 minutes of break time that you can take between sections. Any breaks you take past the 50 minutes are permitted, but they then eat into your actual test time, which is 8.5 hours.
8 sections are split between Part A+B or Part C questions:
- 110 questions in Part A (Basic Concepts in Psychiatry)
- 110 questions in Part B (Neurology and Neurosciences)
- 230 questions in Part C (Clinical Psychiatry).
So 8 sections of 50-65 questions each for a total of 450 questions over 510 minutes. About 20% is neurology/neuroscience. Tack on a 5-minute intro and 5-minute post-test survey and 50 minutes break time, and the whole day can take up to 9.5 hours. 4 sections are vignette based and 4 sections are pure stand-alone questions (from the format and scoring document):
Stand-alone questions are one-best-answer multiple-choice questions that are not associated with any other questions. Part A and Part B questions are all stand-alone questions. For vignette questions, there are typically two to ten multiple-choice questions linked to a common case that may be presented in a video clip, which may vary in length from one to four minutes, an audio clip, or in a text vignette.
The ABPN does provide one sample video vignette to whet your appetite.
Historically, each Part was graded separately and needed to be passed. Now the test is graded in aggregate; it’s no longer possible to fail a single section and thus fail the exam. In 2016, a 71% correct overall was the passing threshold.
And everything is now DSM-V (from the policy document):
Starting in 2017, all specifications and content of all ABPN computer-delivered examinations will be based solely on DSM-5. No DSM-IV-TM classifications and diagnostic criteria will be applicable.
- Psychiatry Test Preparation and Review Manual (“Kenny and Spiegel”) is the favorite overall. It was updated to DSM-V in 2016 and includes 1100 questions (6 tests of 150 questions + 160 case vignette questions). The book does come with online qbank-style access, which is cool and can give you topic-performance feedback as well as access to 8 video vignettes.
- Massachusetts General Hospital Psychiatry Update & Board Preparation, which is a review book coupled with ~400 questions. Succinct material coverage but not updated to DSV-V yet.
- Kaplan & Sadock’s Study Guide and Self-Examination Review in Psychiatry, also not updated to DSM-V yet.
The most popular question bank for the ABPN is Board Vitals (which also has question banks for other specialties as well). This resource is definitely not error-free, and some users feel that it contains too much esoterica, but it’s still widely used. It’s $139 for a month. Using the code BW10 at checkout also gets you 10% off.
Overall, questions represent the board style pretty well, and the product is a good size (1639 questions). BV was completely updated to DSM-V in 2017. A lot of the “neuro” questions are actually psychiatry, so the neuro coverage is less than you’d guess from when you first log in. As an exclusively web-based product, there is no off-line access. You also need to hit the “show explanation” button to see the explanation for a question, which gets tiring after a while.
There is also a new optional 250 question package (actually 257) based on video vignettes available as an add-on (another $139/month), which is pricey but basically the only a la carte source for this question format currently.
A new player is TrueLearn, which has products for both the PRITE and the ABPN ($25 off with that link). Questions overall feel harder and have a more basic science/med school type feel than those found in the other resources. The interface is a little more cluttered, but the software is overall solid: you can cross out answer choices and there’s also a “bottom line” summary statement, which is helpful.
Ultimately, TrueLearn is a reasonable second online question source after Board Vitals but overall probably not quite as high-yield yet. Overall, a couple of question sources are likely to be sufficient, so after Kenny & Spiegel and Board Vitals +/- more neuro review depending on your background, most test-takers are probably done question-wise.
Beat the Boards
Is a $1,097 online lecture course with a ~1000 questions and ~50 vignettes. We reached out to them to provide access for this review and were totally ignored. This is really expensive and ultimately unnecessary to pass.
- Kaufman’s Clinical Neurology for Psychiatrists may be too long to read cover to cover during a limited post-work board review, but it also contains 2000 questions (extras are online) to help round out your neurology review.
- Psychiatry Board Review: Pearls of Wisdom is a change of pace written in a concise Q&A format which was useful as an adjunct, but it’s now a bit out of date and was neither as consistent nor as thorough as the other review books. It does contain a lot of high yield facts organized in a quick-read manner but is crying out for a DSM-V update.
- Unlike for Step 1, First Aid for the Psychiatry Boards isn’t the strongest source for psychiatry review and can be ignored. It purportedly does a passable job for neurology but remains a safe pass unless you just need to have another book.
Thanks to my awesome wife (the esteemed psychiatrist) for help in writing this post.
Thanks for this! I’ll be applying to psychiatry residency next year, and this feels far away, but it’s good to know what lies ahead.
Hi Ben, just wondering whether your wife or any colleagues you know of have done the online Massachusetts General Hospital Psychiatry Board Exam Mastery Course and would recommend it? It’s very expensive and I can’t find any reviews online. Thanks!
No one in her program did a course (and I don’t know anything about it). Given their successes with varying degrees of preparation, I don’t think anything expensive is necessary.
Per my information beat the boards is $1097 for a year. So compared to $139 for a month it does not sound expensive to me.
Sure, if you were planning on buying a qbank for the whole year, which I don’t think anyone does. A month or two is plenty for any normal qbank, and you don’t even technically need a qbank either. None of the psychiatrists I’ve met personally used BTB (or even studied for the boards for an entire year) and all passed their boards. I’m sure the experience of others may differ.
I have no idea if it’s worth the money because neither I nor anyone I know has used it. There are mixed but generally positive reviews online last I checked. I do know that it is not an essential or mandatory expense.
Thanks, that helps.
I’ve done Best the boards live lectures and it’s excellent and worth it.
For the Board Vitals question bank, are the neurology questions within the psychiatry question bank sufficient? Or should I purchase the separate neurology question bank as well (if taking initial psychiatry board examination). Thanks for any help!
The neuro questions in Kaufman are a better choice than buying the product for neurologists.
Excellent, thank you!
Could you please provide an update on what is the best material to use for psych boards initial certification in 2018, updated for dsm 5.
Would really appreciate your help.
Kenny & Speigel and Board Vitals are both updated for DSM5. I’d start with those two and go from there.
Thank you so very much for your fast response. Using Board Vitals. Could you please give me your opinion of this book:
Study guide for the psychiatry board examination by Dr Phillip R Muskin.
Have you heard anything about this book please?
I haven’t heard anything about it, and the reviews online are pretty sparse. If you end up using it, let me know how it goes!
Hi Dr. Ben,
By any chance do you know the passing rate for 2017? Based on what you wrote here “In 2016, a 71% correct overall was the passing threshold.”
And do you know if there is a correlation between PRITE and boards scores?
Thanks a lot,
It was 89% for first time test takers in 2017. See: https://www.abpn.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/ABPN-Pass-Rates-5-Year-Summary.pdf
I don’t have answers to the other two questions though.
There is a correlation between PRITE scores and passing the boards, especially strong for PRITE scores during the last year of training.
Is board vitals a must or do you think speigel and beat the boards is enough?
I doubt you need two qbanks. If you’re set on shelling out for BTB, I think that’ll be fine.
Thank you for this site. What’s the best approach in study for MOC this year?
Dear Ben, Thanks so much for this resource. Do you have a sense of the amount of time required to prepare for this exam? If I have 6 months to prepare I am trying to figure out the weekly commitment. Any thoughts would help. I am starting a little from scratch as I have been out of training for several years.
You might get a better spectrum on one of the forums. Seems that over that period most folks probably would be spending just a few hours a week.
Have you heard anything about the Rosh review? It looks like the psychiatry review was added in March 2018 so it’s new. I bet they’d let you know sample it if you were interested.
Nope, I haven’t sorry (and not really currently in the hunt for more things to review either).
Have you heard anything about psychiatryboardprep which goes by psychiatry genius now ??
Nope. Sounds like it’s pretty good though.
Are we supposed to see any online change to the folios account before we get the notification email about exam results?
I need help and guidance.
I have taken the initial boards 3 times was not able to pass it.
4 th time I was so nervous had a migraine attack could not sit for the exam.
This will be my 5 th year, I want to pass the boards badly.
My practice is very good and patients are getting better. So clinically I am very strong but cant pass the exam.
Can you please guide me how do I prepare for the exam?
When should I start preparing. How many hrs a week ?
I did speigels and BTB along with focus all three times, in fact did live course of BTB.
I am lost totally, please help me.
Thanks a lot for this site
I’m sorry I don’t have any advice for your frustrating situation. I’m not a psychiatrist, and my psychiatrist colleagues (in particular my wife) who provided the key background for this post all passed on their first attempt without much more than what their residency provided a book or qbank or two.
Hi Shweta;i understand your frustration but dont give up. Please e mail me at email@example.com
sorry it is firstname.lastname@example.org
Try Mypsychboard. This was my second try and I think it is the closest q bank to the real thing
N=1 Benchmark. 2021 Boards pass with ~50th percentile. 1 week test prep with Kenny and Spiegel book (3 tests taken, all ~70% in score) and Anki to aid memorization.
Thanks for sharing
I used Mypsychboard and K and S. Passed with flying colors
I used board vitals which was really good. I used Mypsychboard for vidoe vignettes which helped a lot. Beat the boards was good but the lectures were too slow and boring
I am waiting for the result. The test was hard and the vidoe vignettes were tricky. I can say the best resource is Spiegel followed by Mypsychboard. I used to do well on PRITE during residency and felt that 25 percent of the exam was bizarre!